Brendan O’Driscoll (26) – Brendan is the CEO of Soundwave. He holds a B.Eng degree in Mechanical Engineering from UCD and an M.Sc in Innovative Sustainable Energy Engineering from KTH, Sweden. Before Soundwave, Brendan set up a Dublin-based “rickshaw” start-up and later moved to Sweden to join Minesto, an innovative tidal energy technology company based in Gothenburg as well as complete his studies. In early 2012, Brendan founded Soundwave alongside Aidan Sliney (28) and later Craig Watson (30).
Aidan Sliney (28), CTO of Soundwave, holds a BSC in Computer Science. Whilst working towards a PhD in E-Learning at UCC, he decided to enter the commercial world with Paddy Power. It was here he learned his trade in Project Management. He has worked in many areas within online development from UX, UI to Business Analysis as well as Product Management.
Backed by Mark Cuban and ACT Venture Capital, Soundwave is a mobile music-discovery startup founded in 2012. With offices in Dublin and San Francisco, the Soundwave app tracks what songs people are listening to on their smartphones and where in real time.
The technology, built by the team of 10, seamlessly indexes a user’s listening habits (regardless of device or music player). Users then leverage a real time network of consumption data to discover new songs and people. In turn, a valuable commercial opportunity is unlocked. The IP behind the service is patent pending and has not been replicated on iOS by any other product.
Soundwave, launched in summer 2013 with the help of actor Stephen Fry and Apple founder Steve Wozniak, has been downloaded over 1 million times since, and is now tracking in excess of 250,000 songs every single day. The company has tracked over 70 million song plays since launch in 190 countries.
For users: As music collections have moved out of the physical age and onto desktops and mobile devices, the many different players, streaming services, websites and apps through which we can play our music have meant that it has been impossible to easily track and share what you are listening to. Sharing is difficult as everyone is using different players and services. With the Soundwave app, users can easily track what they listen to across all their different players, can share music instantly with their friends and can plug into different groups of people and locations in real time to see what songs are trending in any location around the world. You can discover new music as quickly as it is played.
The business: Building a frictionless sharing network that is valued by consumers unlocks valuable user consumption data and a huge opportunity to monetise real time market insights, serving up who is playing what, where and when. Soundwave is making sense of this data to understand what artists are popular in what regions – information the music industry finds hugely valuable– allowing for the music industry, as well as brands, to create highly targeted campaigns.
Voted as Best Innovation in Music 2013 by Apple, the app has also received ‘Editors Choice’ acknowledgements from Apple and is a Google ‘Top Developer’. Forbes voted Soundwave one of “5 companies that made media consumption smarter this year” in 2013.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
Brendan: I was living in Sweden at the time and I saw a girl with big headphones on walk directly into a tree because she was so intently loving the song she was listening to. I wanted to know what that song was, and I wanted to listen to it too!
How did you secure your first investment?
Brendan: Believe it or not I sent a cold email to billionaire Mark Cuban after I read about him investing in a Silicon Valley startup. I didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t target the super-angels if valley companies were. He read my mail and we closed our round with him and ACT Venture Capital shortly after!
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
When we first figured out how to understand what songs people played on the music players on their iPhones – we knew we were on to something. Massive market leaders (read: Last.fm) had been trying to do this unsuccessfully for years. We wanted to make sure our method was ok by Apples rules – so we emailed Eddy Cue (VP of iTunes) and told him what we had just done. The next day we were on a plane to Apple. We sat opposite a fleet of Apple employees who were asking all sorts of questions about who we were (they were bemused we went straight to Eddy and even more that he acknowledged us), what we were doing and how. We weren’t sure if they were going to rule our method acceptable or not. Luckily they did, they loved it and they’ve been supporting us ever since!
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
Brendan: I requested to add Apple founder Steve Wozniak on LinkedIn and attached a little note about what we were doing and he accepted. We went on to meet him a couple of weeks later at an event we were both speaking at in Derry (EBN Congress). He went on to become a big supporter calling Soundwave “a music product that fits my life so perfectly”. From that point on, it kind of hit home that we might be on to something here if we can hold the attention of heavyweights like “The Woz”!
Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution?
We somehow convinced Stephen Fry to present an hour long televised Soundwave launch event at Apples offices which was turned into an official Apple video podcast. This happened because a former intern (cheers Caitlin!) popped Stephen an email letting him know about Soundwave having met him before at a ‘Phil’ event in Trinity.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
We’ve driven over a 1M downloads of Soundwave in a matter of months with no spend on marketing (other than purchasing a few Soundwave hoodies). We’re chuffed with that – but we’re aiming to scale 10x, 100x that and soon!
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
Making our mothers believe that what we are doing is actually a ‘real’ job.
What were the best & the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
Best: It’s all about the people (the right founders, right team, right advisors, right investors, right partnerships).
Worst: “You should outsource your development, its way cheaper”.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Figure out who is doing what you want to do – then figure out how they are doing it. Then try to meet them – and when you’re trying to do what they’ve already done – listen to any advice they might be kind enough to give. But above all else, be respectful of their time – there’s a fine line between making the most of someone’s willingness to help and taking advantage of someone.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
Brendan: When in college, a buddy and I designed, built and leased out a fleet of rickshaws that were then pulled around Dublin city centre late at night during the boom years! We even managed to sell advertising space on them. I’ve never learnt so much about business as when negotiating bulk aluminium purchases, convincing manufacturers that we weren’t nuts or figuring out through trial and error which motorbike tires gave the smoothest ride down Grafton St!
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
Yes, a lot, and for that I am eternally grateful. I owe a lot of coffees to a lot of people!
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
We’ve tried to talk our way into a few events before for sure and tried reaching out to people using the Irish card too (there aren’t many international investors, journalists etc. that we haven’t invited to Dublin for a few pints of Guinness). You’ve got to use what you have!
How do you generate new ideas to stay ahead of the curve?
We use a great product by a great Irish company called SmartWallPaint that basically turns every wall in our office into a whiteboard. So any time an idea hits or a spontaneous brainstorming session breaks out – we can write, scribble and doodle all over the walls. Needless to say, our office looks like the home of a madman!
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Someone who is looking to work at Soundwave instead of just looking for a job. I’ll never forget one application we got where the applicant, who was obviously using a template cover letter, forgot to fill in the name of the company and the position. It read: “Dear employer, I would like to apply for the position at company”. I wrote back: “Sure thing, please come to address, at time, to meet with founder to discuss this further”. We didn’t hear back.
Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?
We’re seeing a lot of people feeling confident in their choice to work in a startup environment right now. There is a real ‘can-do’ attitude at the minute.
What do you believe it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
Determination. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs (different ideas, features, hires, investors, users).
If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”?
It’s not exactly a revelation – but micropayments (fintech) is already pretty huge and it’s only going to grow. The ability to easier transfer money between two people, two devices or two accounts instantly and cheaply is something we’ve needed for a while – and innovations in this space are coming fast.
What do you believe is your company’s competitive advantage?
We’re firm believers that real value lies in the ability to execute not in the idea. Our ability to execute better than anyone else in our field and our ability to surround ourselves with the domain experts that can help us to get to where we want to go are big competitive advantages for sure.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today?
Sleep, lots of it.
How do you recharge your batteries?
Sleep, lots of it.